Summary: The things we say have weight and meaning and they have long lasting effects. This message tells us how to control our tongue.
James 3:1-12 "That Troublesome Tongue"
By Pastor Mark Hiehle
When I was growing up, there was a phrase that I heard that sounded good but was as false as false could be. Whenever I was teased or put down, the phrase would run through my mind as a retort, but deep down I knew it wasn’t true. The saying? "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me." How many this morning know that saying is wrong? Have you ever been hurt by the words of others? Has the sting of a critical comment remained with you longer than you care to admit? Words do wound and comments do cut often worse than any knife ever could. And the worse part of all, is that the wounds usually come from those we don’t expect to be hurt by - family members, friends, people we thought we knew and even those in the church. No one is exempt from the painful words of others. This is one of the problems that James was needing to address in the church here in chapter 3.
In the book of James, the servant of God is dealing with problems in the church. Throughout the letter, he is helping them learn to view their trials from God’s perspective as well as resisting temptation and bridling their anger. The church was tolerating evil, showing favoritism and participated in fighting, slander and lying about one another. The church members were using their tongues to destroy each other verbally and attack integrity and character. Someone has said that great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people. The church that James is writing to was full of small-minded people who talked about each other and tore each other apart with their tongues. Are people any different today? Again, the Bible is a practical, contemporary book for today, here and now. The Bible has something to say to us this morning. The question is, do we have the courage to listen and apply His Word to our lives this morning?
Within the church today, we would be quick to avoid murder, stealing, committing adultery or drunkenness, but we assassinate fellow believers and leave destruction in our wake by the way we use our tongues. Things are said that we have never forgotten. Husbands have stabbed their wives with tongues that are as sharp as daggers and wives have lashed out with tongues that cut and pierce. Children have exploded at their parents with words that have leveled the family like a bomb, and churches have been devastated by tongues that have chopped and cut people to shreds. James deals directly with where we live.
With a sobering introduction to this topic, James begins by stating that leaders will be judged more severely because of their teaching position. People follow their leaders and God holds teachers responsible for what they say. In other words, when you speak on behalf of God, He records your words - he writes it down. But it is not only teachers who will be judged. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that, "...men will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every idle word they have spoken." James goes on to say in verse 2 that we all stumble but we must get control of our tongues. If we want to become mature and complete in our faith, we must control our tongues. To illustrate this truth, he uses the image of a bit, a rudder and a fire.
Just as horses are controlled by a small bit in their mouths and huge ships are directed by a relatively small rudder, so our lives are controlled by our tongues. The words we use affect our lives and the lives of others. USA Today reported a story when CBS released The Karen Carpenter Story. The story told how Karen died unexpectedly of heart failure at age 32 brought on by years of self abuse from the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. The reporter asked the question, "What brought on Karen’s fatal obsession with weight control?" It seems a reviewer once called her, "Richard’s chubby sister". Sticks and stones? Contrary to popular opinion, words do mean something and words are powerful. When sparks fly, firestorms erupt and infernos sweep through relationships and churches.
What kind of fires are started by small sparks? Gossip fires. When people talk about others behind their backs, sparks start to smolder. Within gossip, people focus on negative aspects of others as they criticize, pick apart and tear them down. As gossip spreads, it erupts into slander as the criticism attacks the worth and personhood of the individual. No longer is the action of the person stabbed at, but now the person is no good. Through words, a person is assassinated and held up to ridicule and scorn - usually, unjustly. There is one thing that I have found to be true of gossips and slanderers - they are cowards at heart. Never do they talk to their victims, just those who will listen behind closed doors or in the shadows. They shoot arrows from behind cover and whisper in secret. It is no wonder that James refers to these kind of people as poisonous snakes. I so appreciate what Dr. Tony Evans said about this image. He said that "If you hang around snaky people, you are going to get bit." I other words, when you are bitten by a snake, the poison that was in them is transferred to you. Therefore, when you listen to a gossip, their poison becomes your poison.